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1.13.2017

"Unlimited Grace", by Dr. Bryan Chapell (book review)

I received Unlimited Grace for review via Crossway's blog review program, and I must begin by stating that I absolutely loved it!  I devoured it, actually.  In an age when all sorts of false gospels and false Jesuses are proclaimed, this book is important.  

The overall theme of the book is to walk readers through a detailed, but easy-to-read-and-comprehend, understanding of biblical grace.  Many are tempted to believe that the experience of God’s grace gives license to sin freely without remorse.  But that is not the view of biblical grace, but one of cheap grace.  Instead, when a sinner experiences God’s amazing grace, s/he can’t help but love the people and things God loves, and therefore, live a life that pleases and honors Almighty God.

Dr. Chapell taught and reminded his readers that we cannot earn God's grace, but that He extends it to us because of His loving character.  This grace -- both common and special grace -- is what ought to drive people to the presence of God. 

I was inspired, challenged, and blessed by 20 of the book’s 21 chapters.  But I have to admit, I had to re-read chapter 20 two additional times.  It covered the ever challenging topic of hell.  Because I agreed with Dr. Chapell’s theology through the majority of the book, I admit I may have misinterpreted his intent.  Hence, the re-reads.
 
Questions I Pondered in Chapter 20:

He wrote at location 1984 of 3036 (because I read the Kindle version):
     “If escaping God’s judgment is all that motivates, then most are unlikely to love him as he requires.  Most peoples’ initial love for Christ stems from his rescue from the present “hell” of their earthly existence: loneliness, emptiness, guilt, shame, depression, slavery to addiction, relational trauma, and so on.  That is why Jesus was being true to the human experience as well as his spiritual task when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  He understood that the pains of this life could be as compelling as the threats of the next.”

   My concern is with the second sentence in the paragraph just quoted.  Here's why: Did Jesus come to merely save us from bad relationships, addictions, debt, and any other "despairs of this life"?  Or did he come to save sinners from God’s wrath, paying the penalty for our sins, and thus, making us holy and in right standing before God?  I lament that far too many people “come to Jesus" because they hope a "genie-in-a-bottle Jesus" will fix their ailing circumstances. 

On the heels of this passage, Dr. Chapell wrote at location 1994 of 3036:
    “Early in their Christian experience most people have no concept of what they have done that would deserve eternity in hell.  Even if they echo thoughts they have heard from a pulpit, or feel deep and profound guilt, few could identify why they would deserve an eternal hell of suffering for their sin.”

   Again, I may be misunderstanding Dr. Chapell here, for it appears that he suggests that a sinner can be truly converted apart from seeing the penalty their (our) sins deserve?  Is the kind of turning to Jesus for merely financial or marital healing the same as turning to – and trusting – Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and to be made right with God?  Is “profound guilt” the same as Holy Spirit conviction that brings about true repentance and conversion?  Are those who "have no concept" of their sins’ due penalty truly converted?  The whole of Scripture teaches that true conversion occurs when a sinner recognizes his/her sin, is convinced s/he needs a savior, and trusts that Savior to be Jesus only, and that the sinner recognizes his/her need to repent of sin.

 I would prefer to ask Dr. Chapell these questions personally, but alas.  Nevertheless, I truly appreciate this book.

Rating: Other than the chapter written above, I truly liked the book.  Overall, I think this would be an excellent read for new and growing believers alike.

I give Unlimited Grace 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Disclaimer: I received this ebook free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.

12.15.2016

"Expositional Preaching", by David Helm (book review)


I welcomed the opportunity to review “Expositional Preaching”, by David Helm when it was offered by Crossway Publishing.  This is one of many thoughtfully helpful books offered in the IX Marks (9 Marks)ministry series, and it was well worth the short amount of time it took to read it.  It’s just a little book, comprised of only an Introduction, 4 chapters, and a Conclusion.

You may wonder how a book on expositional preaching could be helpful to a non-preacher.  Many of us who are not preachers enjoy theological studies and application. After all, we are all theologians in one way or another.  What I enjoyed about this book as a non-preacher was that it provided me with three helpful insights. First, it makes me more aware of what to look for and expect from preachers and my own pastor.  Second, it makes me aware of research techniques that good preachers should employ.  And so it seems that if good preachers should practice it, then it could also aid my personal study. Third, the application of Helm's insights places just a few more tools in my belt to make me that much more effective whenever I teach or facilitate small group studies in the future.

One set of thoughts that resonated deeply with me was that of bathing the preaching of God’s word in prayer: praying during the preparation, during the presentation, and following its presentation.  While the point was made for preachers, I think it rightly can/should apply to those of us sitting in the seats, submitting to the authority of God’s word.  I am reminded to pray for my pastor from Monday to Saturday, that he would be of a clear mind as he studies.  I am reminded to prayerfully listen intently to God’s word as it is being spoken, to heed the promptings and convictions of the Holy Spirit in my own heart and mind.  Finally, I am reminded to pray that we who are listening might be changed and convicted by the preaching of God’s word as we wrestle with the truth in our lives.

I think a book like this is a must-have, useful tool for preachers and pew-sitters alike.  Sadly, good, biblical, expositional preaching has gone the way of the dinosaur, but is so desperately needed today.  If people were more aware of what to expect, and if preachers were more aware of what should be expected of them, and more in tune with how to be more effective communicators of God's word, I can only imagine the powerful change the Word of God could bring about in today’s listeners.

Recommendation: I give “Expositional Preaching” 5 out of 5 stars.  Get a copy today; you won’t be disappointed!


Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

11.24.2016

"NKJV Know the Word Study Bible" (book review)

I received the NKJV Know the Word Study Bible free of charge as part of the BookLook Bloggers review program in exchange for an unbiased review of it.  This 1900-page Bible is published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and comes with a concordance and maps.  But there are other features, which I'll discuss here.

Dimensions: The Bible measures approximately 8-3/4" x 5-3/4" x 1-3/8" and weighs maybe around 1 pound.  Not big, not heavy.  Perfect for carrying to/from school/work, etc.

Topic-by-Topic articles are scattered throughout, but there is a nice index at the beginning of the Bible that directs the reader to what page a topical article can be found.  This comes in handy if a reader is looking to study a topic of his/her choosing at any particular time.  Otherwise, the reader can read the articles as they arrive while reading the biblical text. 

 Should the reader stumble across an article or word study that is of particular interest, there exists a footnote at the bottom of said article/note that directs the reader to either the next or the previous topical study.
 The articles or word studies are not all that lengthy, but provide just enough to serve as fodder for deeper digging.  To go deeper, one would simply employ heavier tools like exhaustive concordances, systematic theology resources, etc.  I doubt this study Bible was intended to be the final resource on all study materials, but rather as a simple introduction and invitation for readers to go deeper into God's word.

A nice 2-page feature exists following the last page of Malachi, and immediately preceding Matthew's gospel.  This section briefly outlines various eras of human history and some of the more significant events that took place until the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus.

 Of course, this Bible comes equipped with the red letters for Jesus's words.  It's not a mandatory thing, but is helpful to the reader who thinks to him/her-self when trying to find a passage, "Jesus said such-and-such, so where would I find it?"  The red letters simply help narrow down one's searching.

Finally, I've attached a photo of a pencil next to the type font so you can see just how small or large the print is for your liking.  There are decent (not huge) margins on the sides and bottoms of the pages for notes.  But if those areas are not enough, there are several pages with a lot of clean space for writing short notes.
Rating: Overall, I give this Bible just 3 1/2 stars out of 5.  It is simple, but provides some helpful resources for study.  It wouldn't be my first choice of study Bibles, but it might be useful for new or young believers to whet their appetites for more of God's word.

11.16.2016

"Why the Reformation Still Matters", by Michael Reeves & Tim Chester (book review)


"The reformation is over!", many suggest.  "There is no more need for squabbling over small matters."

Is the Reformation over? 
Is there no more need to dispute? 
And were the protestations really over small matters? 

Authors Michael Reeves and Tim Chester address not only that the Reformation is NOT over (after all, Semper Reformanda -- always reforming), but that it MUST continue.  The true Church must always be about keeping in line with the doctrines of God, and any stray teaching must be corrected immediately before it tailspins out of control.  As Reeves and Chester observed, "It was not the Reformers who had departed from the true church.  It was Rome that had departed from the true gospel" (p.165). 

JUSTIFICATION: Reeves and Chester begin the book with the driving doctrine of the Reformation: Justification.  To be justified is a matter of being declared right by God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, who paid the full penalty for the sins of those who would but trust him.  As Reeves and Chester explain, justification "does not mean to make righteous" (as Catholic theology suggests) "or to change a person, but to reckon righteous, to declare righteous, to acquit" (p.29).  A sinner, apart from Christ, cannot grow righteous and, therefore, become righteous in God's sight.  No.  A sinner is declared righteous, and that forgiven saint now grows in the righteousness that is already his. This is no small matter that must be cherished by the forgiven sinner, for it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once grasped, the truly converted can rest assured in being completely at peace with God.

LAYOUT: Throughout the book, Reeves and Chester handle additional doctrines pertaining to Scripture, Sin, Grace, Theology of the Cross, Union with Christ, The Spirit, The Sacraments, The Church, Everyday Life, & Joy and Glory.  The book is packed full with reference quotations from numerous Reformers (Calvin, Sibbes, and Hus to name a few), with the most prominent being Luther, of course.  But it's not merely a book that regurgitates what long-dead Reformers wrote, but a careful handling of the doctrines that make Reformed Theology reformed.

RESONATION: There were so many quotable passages in this book, that I wish I had the print version for easier access to those highlights than my e-reader provides.  In fact, I'll probably purchase the print copy anyway.  Rather than pull any number of quotes from the book to prove that it was worth the read from cover-to-cover, I'd prefer to address an area that resonated with me throughout the book.

Here it is: Many -- far too many -- pastors today have abandoned teaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and too many congregations have allowed it to happen. Solid teaching about the real Jesus Christ of the Bible and what he accomplished seems to have taken a back seat to the jesus of the false Prosperity Gospel, Therapeutic Gospel, Social Gospel, etc.  False teaching has grown rampant, and many sheep in the pews do not realize the danger they face in adopting these "other gospels".  The sheep, instead, desire only to have their ears tickled, rather than be confronted by the truth of the cross.  The Reformation STILL matters today, and it must continue.

RATING: I give "Why the Reformation Still Matters" 5 stars out of 5 for it's biblical handling of crucial doctrines, for its clarity and readability, and most importantly, for its solid presentation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.  If you are encouraged by reading any of the Reformers' work, or reading about the Reformation and its doctrines, you'll want to add this book to your library.

DISCLAIMER: I received the e-book version of this title free of charge from Crossway Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not required to provide a positive review.  All opinions are mine.

10.25.2016

NKJV Study Bible, by Thomas Nelson Publishers (book review)

This Bible is a Second Edition release, which was copyrighted in 1997 and 2007.   Not having used any previous editions, I cannot say how this edition has been updated.  However, there are several wonder features, and I'll describe a few of the more prominent ones here.

Editors:

General Editor: Earl D. Radmacher, Th. D. was on staff at Western Seminary, and passed away on December 8, 2014.

Old Testament Editor: Ronald B. Allen, Th. D., is currently the Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary.

New Testament Editor: H. Wayne House, Th. D., J. D. is the Distinguished Research Professor of Theology, Law, and Culture at Faith Evangelical College and Seminary, and President of Christian Perspective International.

Other contributors in the first edition are numerous, and many have titles following their names.

Articles:

There are a number of articles strategically placed throughout this study Bible, and there is a nice article index located in the opening pages.  Typically, the articles long enough to cover the subject and answer key questions, but brief enough so as to not require a lot of page space.

Word Studies:
Beginning on page xxvii is a list of words for study.  It goes without saying that the list is not all-inclusive.  And while it is only five pages long, the words for studies have a Strong's concordance reference, as well as a page number index. 
The word study itself contains a brief explanation of the word from within the context of the Bible passage and concordance.  Here's how it works: Citing "God" in the word study section provides the Hebrew word, followed by the page number where the "word study" is located.  Turn to page 4 and the reader finds the brief study. This feature would probably be best used as a launching pad for deeper learning in conjunction with other study tools.


Concordance:

The concordance is a decent 195 pages long.  While it does not contain Hebrew or Greek references, it is competitive to other Bible concordances when the reader is in need of a quick reference.  Then again, in this digital age, a word or phrase can be quickly accessed via cell phone technology.  Nevertheless, it's a useful tool.

Dimensions and Specs:

The pages measure approximately 6 1/4 inches x 9 inches, and is approximately 1 3/4 inches thick.
Each page is divided into two columns measuring approximately 2 1/8 inches wide.  The columns are separated by a center reference column measuring approximately 3/4 inch wide.

The font is a comfortable read for a thicker study Bible.  I typically wear glasses for reading, but do not have a terribly difficult time reading the words without glasses.  Font size has to be just right for study Bibles: to small.

Margins:

I like to write in my Bible, and these margins are suitable for jotting notes, especially if you write on the smaller side of the penmanship spectrum.
 I've included this photo to give you a reference point regarding font and margin sizes.

Rating:

This is a good quality study Bible. Prices range from $40 to $60, and would be money well spent.  I really haven't found anything to "complain" about with this Bible (other than the color of the cover...most men will be more interested in a stronger color), so I give it 4.5 stars out of 5.  Christmas is approaching, and maybe someone in your circle needs a new Bible. 

Disclaimer:

I received this NKJV Study Bible free of charge from Thomas Nelson Publishers via BookLook Bloggers.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required or forced to provide a positive review.  By the way, the purchaser can even register his/her Bible with the publisher for warranty benefits. Since I received it free of charge, I didn't think it would be right to utilize this feature...so I'm not quite sure how user friendly that process is.

8.10.2016

"One of the Few", by Jason B. Ladd (book review)


I was requested by the author to review his book, "One of the Few".  The following are my personal opinions and reflections.  I was not required to provide a positive review.

BACKGROUND: Jason Ladd achieved what many guys (young and old alike) only get to dream about -- being an F-18 fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps.  As Ladd pens the story of his career path as a fighter pilot, he weaves in priceless life lessons learned along the journey.

LIKES:
THEOLOGY: First, and foremost, I truly appreciate Ladd's theology. He's solid.  In a world where charlatans flood the "Christian" best-sellers lists, it is good to see books with solid, biblical, gospel-centered theology in print.  No reader will finish this book and not understand the true message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

COMPETING WORLDVIEWS: Each chapter begins with two competing worldview quotations, one from a non-Christian worldview, and another from a Christian worldview.  For example, chapter 9 begins with the two following quotes:

"Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.  Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence." (Richard Dawkins)

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Heb. 11:1)

What makes this great is that readers can see very simply on one page what the world has to say about life, and what our Creator has to say...and those are usually different messages!

CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW APPLICATION: The book is packed full of various lessons learned along the journey of Ladd's life, lessons that only seem to come to each of us in different ways and at different times along our own journeys.  Obviously, many of Ladd's lessons were applied in retrospect, long after he trusted Christ for salvation.

DISLIKES:
TIMELINE CONFUSION:  I had a difficult time keeping track of the timeline, which seemed to have a disorderly flow to me.  Ladd jumped around from stories of boyhood, then to adulthood, then back to his college years, and back to boyhood and adulthood again.  That's not the exact order of the book, but I think you get the idea.  While I understand Ladd attempted to weave in various life lessons, placing them where he thought they applied, but the lack of chronology didn't help me in understanding his story.

UNFINISHED ACCOUNTS: Another detractor was unfinished stories left dangling.  For instance, while in the process of explaining night time carrier deck landings -- which was truly riveting -- Ladd ended with simply saying he attempted one last approach, only to see the ball heading for the top of the lens, which meant he could potentially over-fly the landing.  That was it...the account simply ended.  But the next chapter included Ladd celebrating his earning the coveted "eagle, globe, and anchor".  I naturally had to assume he successfully completed the training, but wasn't sure if I was missing more.  However, he told the successful completion of the training at the end of the book, but by then it was too disjointed to have the intended impact.

Similarly, when Ladd told about an injury his wife sustained to one of her eyes, he left the story incomplete. I only learned its conclusion via personal email interaction I had with him. I fully recognize Ladd's purpose for telling the stories he did in order to tell the more important life lessons about character development and Christian worldview.  But there's also the reality that when we tell (and listen to) stories, we want to tell/hear their conclusions.

TOO MUCH VARIETY: The book has a "variety show" feel, making it difficult to deeply engage any single theme.  There was just SO MUCH that flooded my brain, from matters of courage, alcohol, drugs, pornography, manliness, etc, to Christian Apologetics and the importance of having a well-informed Christian worldview.  All are good and necessary.  But it was too broad for me.

RATING: From a theological perspective, I give "One of the Few" 5 stars.  From a story line and overall theme organization, however, I give it just 3 stars.  The riveting nature of the fighter-pilot stories saves the book from falling flat.  I'd like to see it re-organized, but it's probably a little late for that now.  It didn't blow my socks off, but it would still be a decent read for a young man.

7.27.2016

"What Christians Ought to Believe", by Michael F. Bird (book review)

Right out of the gate, the title of this book is sure to offend in our Western, "don't-tell-me-what-to-do" society. But that is precisely the reason books like this one are necessary.  I suspect many who attend various churches around the world simply attend without having any grounding about what they should hold tightly.  As a result, the unsuspecting can be swayed by any wave of doctrine that comes their way.

But this phenomenon didn't begin in the 21st Century, or even in the West.  Disputes over Christian doctrine, over what Christians ought to believe -- and what its clergy ought to teach -- have raged for centuries.  Enter: the ancient creeds.  Creeds like the Nicene, Apostle's, Athanasian Creeds, etc., were written to firm up various disputes in clear, concise, and easy-to-memorize fashion.

"What Christians Ought to Believe" is an expository and historical handling of the Apostle's Creed:
Each chapter in this thought-provoking book is based on each phrase within the Creed, from beginning to end.  What do we believe about the Father, or about the Son, Jesus Christ, or about the Holy Spirit?  What do we believe about the crucifixion of our Lord?  What do we believe about the universal Church over which Jesus Christ is the head? And so-on.

This book dives deep into theological issues applicable for our day, and is the kind of book where it would be good for readers to have a Bible handy.  I didn't find the book to be a fast read since I carefully progressed through it by writing notes in the margins of my Bible, or writing and asking questions in the margins of this book for later reflection.  Needless to say, I didn't (couldn't, in fact) simply speed-read through it.

My favorite chapter was chapter 8: "Believing in the Offence of the Cross", where Bird explains, whereas we have grown accustomed to wearing a cross as jewelry, the real "cross tells us what God is like."  It offends. Period.  Bird writes on p. 117, "For critics of Christianity...the cross is the epitome of religion gone crazy...the cross is shameful, affronting, absurd, nonsensical, and plain unjust."  But in all reality, the cross is, indeed, all of those things.  It doesn't make sense to the human mind.  But "upon the cross we encounter the depth of God's mercy for those who were once children of disobedience and his love for those once enslaved to the present evil age".

Rating: I give What Christians Ought to Believe 5 stars out of 5.  I appreciate several facets about the book, namely Bird's deep-diving approach.  He is an excellent writer, and a sound Bible expositor.  Well done, Mr. Bird!

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to give a positive review of this title.